Sociology of Abortion Politics

Women protesting, with a sign that reads "My body. My choice."

This week, on 11 May 2017, a bill two-years-in-the-making to decriminalise abortion in the state of New South Wales, Australia, was defeated 14 to 25, meaning abortion remains a crime under the Criminal Act. Greens MP and Spokesperson for the Status of Women, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC, who led the campaign to decriminalise said: “This bill was not about promoting or not promoting abortion. It was about choice.”

Another separate bill to establish 150 metre safe zones to protect abortion clinics has been introduced by Labor MP Penny Sharpe. This bill works to eliminate harassment and intimidation by anti-choice lobbyists who film and degrade women who walk into clinics.

In NSW, women can access abortions only with their doctor’s consent that there are “reasonable grounds” for the abortion, linked to physical and mental danger. Otherwise abortion is punishable by five years in jail.

This law has been in place since the 1970s, but stems back to 1900. Counter to national myths of our egalitarianism, abortion laws unearth how gender inequality is maintained by White, conservative Christian patriarchal ideology that seeks to control women’s autonomy. Sociological studies show how medical professionals have long been at the vanguard of change, by shifting understandings of abortion from moral arguments, to a medical choice.

Christian lobby groups, who hold strong political power, push back against medical and community views, using emotional imagery to influence abortion laws. This has proven effective over time, and continues to hold back progress in New South Wales (and Queensland, another conservative stronghold). Despite this recent set-back, momentum towards progressive change continues. A better sociological understanding of religiously conservative ideology and tactics may hold the key towards the next legal breakthrough.

 

Continue reading Sociology of Abortion Politics

International Day of Solidarity for Indigenous Australian Woman Ms Dhu

The tragic and preventable injustices suffered by Indigenous Australian woman Ms Dhu deserves urgent international attention.

Earlier this week, the West Australian Coroner found that the death in custody of 22-year old Indigenous woman Ms Dhu was preventable. She was imprisoned for petty fines that White Australians are not jailed for, let alone ultimately die over. The police abuse, which included denying Ms Dhu medical attention as she lay dying and dragging her body “like a dead kangaroo,” was found to be cruel and unprofessional.

Ms Dhu  died of respiratory complications due to infection. Ms Dhu was a victim of domestic violence, and like many Indigenous Australians, did not have adequate access to services and support for this trauma and her ongoing health issues.

Trigger warning on the footage: graphic violence. Footage contains images of a deceased Indigenous person. Continue reading International Day of Solidarity for Indigenous Australian Woman Ms Dhu

Social Justice in Ferguson: Addressing Racial Bias in Policing

Over 1,400 sociologists have signed an open letter protesting police brutality in Ferguson, USA. The letter includes practical measures to address the killing of Michael Brown and mistreatment of protesters in Ferguson. Coordinated by Sociologists for Justice, the letter shows that systemic racism needs to be addressed as well as wider socio-economic and political issues to ensure effective change is enacted.

The book The New Jim Crow outlines how the criminal justice system in America is affected by systemic racism. Additionally, decades of sociological research shows that police officers’ decision-making is affected by racial stereotypes and that better training can address this bias (more links below). Effective change in community policing begins by understanding the effects of the victimisation of people of colour and by addressing the institutional practices that lead to excessive policing of people of colour.

Below are the suggestions outlined in the open letter, but I urge you to read the letter in full as it summarises sociological research on race bias in policing. You can also add your name to the open letter, as I have done.

Social Justice for Michael Brown and Ferguson
We are troubled by the killing of Michael Brown. We are troubled by the excessive show of force and militarised response to protesters who rightfully seek justice and demand a change in the treatment of people of colour by law enforcement. – Sociologists for Justice.

Continue reading Social Justice in Ferguson: Addressing Racial Bias in Policing

Chileans in Australia: The Other 9/11 and the Legacy of the Pinochet Regime

Steet art portrait  of Salvador Allende. Via Thierry Ehrmann, Flickr
Steet art portrait of Salvador Allende. Via Thierry Ehrmann, Flickr

By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD

Today is the “Other September 11.” On this day in Chile, 1973, President Salvador Allende was killed in a coup by Augusto Pinochet. My blog post explores the ongoing impact of this event on Chileans living in Australia.

In his historic speech, Allende’s final address to the nation, he talks of his sacrifice against imperial forces and his vision for the future. SBS News has a great website commemorating this event, including the role that the Australian Government played in feeding intelligence to the USA, which eventually led to the rise of the Pinochet regime. When the Australian Labor government came to power in 1972, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam is said to have been appalled about Australia’s involvement in the coup and removed his Government’s political support.

Australia began accepting Chilean refugees in the mid-1970s. The Chilean-Australian community grew from 6,000 in 1971 to over 24,000 by 1991. Continue reading Chileans in Australia: The Other 9/11 and the Legacy of the Pinochet Regime

After Years in Limbo, the New Australian Asylum Seeker Program Promises to be More Humane

Painting by Syed Ruhollah Musavi. Photographed by Newtown Grafitti.

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Australia’s refugee policies have been increasingly problematic since the 2001 lead up to the Federal election, which was focused on “the problem of boat people” and the so-called “Tampa Boat Crisis”. A new program that links asylum seekers with Australian families is causing some controversy, but it promises to be a more humane alternative to off shore detention of refugees.

In August 2011, the media beamed images of refugees being rescued off an overcrowded, sinking fishing vessel that was stranded six hours away from one of Australia’s offshore territories, Christmas Island. The Tampa was the ship that answered their distress call for rescue.

Refugee Rights Protest at Broadmeadows, Melbourne
Photo: Tavker, via Flickr CC 2.0

Continue reading After Years in Limbo, the New Australian Asylum Seeker Program Promises to be More Humane

The Legal and Social Plight of ‘Gulnaz’, the now-freed Afghan rape survivor

Gulnaz. (Via CNN)

Two years a go, a then-19 year-old Afghan woman known only as ‘Gulnaz’ was charged with adultery and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment after she reported that she had been raped by her cousin’s husband. Gulnaz became pregnant from the rape she endured. She gave birth in prison. Gulnaz and her child lived behind bars for two years until the international community heard about her plight. Her case became known when the European Union announced it had banned a documentary about Gulnaz and other victims of gender crimes, citing a fear for the women’s safety should their story become public (CNN).This rationale drew international criticism. Five thousand people signed a petition for Gulnaz’s release in late November.

Continue reading The Legal and Social Plight of ‘Gulnaz’, the now-freed Afghan rape survivor

Global Connections: What ‘Eve Teasing’ in India, the ‘Slutwalks’ in North America and Sexual Assault in Australia Have in Common

Eve teasing – an evil. (Via Critical Thinkers)

Public harassment of women in India is known as ‘Eve teasing’. I’m using this as a case study to highlight the ‘Western’ media’s divergent constructions of sexual harassment at home and abroad.

In Australia and in Western countries such as the USA, the mainstream media tend to portray sexual violence and gender oppression as a barbaric practice that are culturally entrenched in developing countries. Gender violence is the stuff of others – it is something that members of ‘less civilised’, less enlightened societies do. In comparison, the Western media depict sexual harassment and rape in their own societies as fear-mongering events involving individuals, rather thananindictment of an entire culture. (See my discussion of the sociology of crime reporting in an earlier post.)

Today’s post begins with a case study of Eve teasing in India before moving on to discuss sexual violence on a global scale, including the ‘Slutwalk’ movement. I provide more detail on the USA and Australia to illustrate that gender violence against women is widespread in advanced, liberal democracies, as it is in other parts of the world. As today’s discussion is focused on women, I talk only briefly about sexual violence against men but I will return to this issue in the near future. Here, I will argue that the situation in India is one public expression of broader global patterns of sexual assault.

Continue reading Global Connections: What ‘Eve Teasing’ in India, the ‘Slutwalks’ in North America and Sexual Assault in Australia Have in Common

Australian Politics and ‘Gay Marriage’

Image from the ‘It’s Time’ video campaign by Get Up!

Marriages between lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Australians are not legally recognised in Australia. The ruling Australian Labor Party has been making slow but significant strides towards upholding the marriage rights of LGBT people. The opposing Liberal Party of Australia continues to drag its feet in the face of much-needed legal reform. Today’s post provides some background on ‘same sex’ marriage around the world and the recent legal changes on same-sex civil unions in Australia. I focus more on Australian public opinion and political debates about LGBT marriage between the two major Australian parties. As a sociologist and as an Australian supportive of legal equality and the civic rights of all Australians, I am cautiously optimistic about the legal reforms being proposed by the Labor Party. Without backing by the Liberal Party, however, political change on LGBT marriage equality is likely to be impeded in Parliament.

Continue reading Australian Politics and ‘Gay Marriage’